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Room for one Mo?

Deferred salary holding up Vaughn-to-Mets deal

Posted: Tuesday December 25, 2001 11:05 PM
Updated: Thursday December 27, 2001 7:53 AM
  Mo Vaughn's three-year stint in Anaheim has been marked by injury and disappointment. Tom Hauck/Allsport

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips and agent Jeff Moorad are running up a pretty good telephone bill talking about slugger Mo Vaughn. The only agreement they reached was to keep the conversation going.

The commissioner's office Wednesday granted Phillips and Moorad an extra 24 hours to negotiate a deal for Vaughn after the Anaheim Angels and Mets agreed on a deal for the first baseman. The deal is contingent on Vaughn agreeing to restructure the remainder of his $80 million contract.

"We're still talking," Moorad said. "Mo is excited about the possibility of playing in New York, and as a result, we are trying our best to accommodate everyone involved."

Vaughn took part in some of the calls Wednesday as Moorad and Phillips tried to find a way to fit him into the Mets' payroll structure.

"I'm an optimist by nature and hope that with some more focus and attention, it's a deal that can be put together," Moorad said.

Still in limbo was pitcher Kevin Appier, who is to move to the Angels, according to a person familiar with the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Mets need to clear salary space, and Appier's $9 million contract for 2002 is almost a match to the $10 million Vaughn is due next season, especially if the first baseman is willing to defer some of that money.

After that, however, Vaughn's salary is dramatically higher. He gets $15 million in both 2003 and 2004, with a team option of $14 million for 2005. In contrast, Appier will make $11 million in 2003 and $12 million in 2004.

There are two other twists to the deal.

Anaheim signed free-agent pitcher Aaron Sele on Wednesday and might be inclined to exchange Appier in the trade with a cheaper replacement for Vaughn, such as Mets first baseman Todd Zeile, who will make $6 million next year. Then Phillips could shop Appier elsewhere for some needed outfield help.

One outfield possibility remains Juan Gonzalez, also Moorad's client. Phillips has been cool to the idea of signing Gonzalez even though several players, including pitcher Al Leiter, catcher Mike Piazza and newly acquired second baseman Robbie Alomar, endorsed the move.

Gonzalez, who hit .325 with 35 home runs and 140 RBIs with Cleveland last season, has expressed interest in the Mets, but would command a contract similar to the one Vaughn has. And with Phillips under orders to hold the Mets' payroll to $95 million, it could force other moves.

New York likes the idea of a left-handed slugger like Vaughn protecting Piazza in a lineup that managed just 642 runs last season, lowest in the majors.

There are also some negatives for the Mets to consider. Vaughn is 34 and did not play last season, recovering from a ruptured left biceps tendon. He also led the league with 181 strikeouts in 2000, his last full season.

There is also the matter of trading Appier, a right-hander, which would leave New York with a starting rotation of four left-handers -- Leiter, Shawn Estes, Glendon Rusch and Bruce Chen -- and Steve Trachsel as the only righty. It would be an unusual alignment.

A native of Norwalk, Conn., Vaughn is unhappy in Anaheim and has expressed a desire to return to the East Coast.

The first baseman has 299 career home runs and would add some punch to an anemic Mets attack. The team batted only .249 with 147 homers, both 15th among the 16 NL teams.

A contingent of Mets officials traveled to Massachusetts last week to watch him work out and came back satisfied enough with his condition to move ahead on the trade.


 

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